From the beaches to the mountains, desert heat to snow storms, Ojai Valley School students are capable and confident in the outdoors. Mt. Langley is up there – way up there at 14,026 feet in elevation – as one of the more challenging trips students take in middle school. But Outdoor Education Coordinator Matt Inman and Assistant Coordinator Duncan Wallace have been taking climbers to the summit for decades, and they know the trail quite well.
Preparation, Mr. Inman emphasizes, is the key. Packs and routes are checked and rechecked. Pre-trip meetings involve maps, strategies and details great and small. Although the five students for this year’s ascent were specially chosen for the Mt. Langley excursion because of their performance on past school camping trips, everyone knew this trip would present new challenges — many of them mental, as well as physical.
Perseverance, trip leaders say, is key on a trip like this. What will you tell yourself when your head is pounding from the high altitude, or when the wind cuts through all your layers and chills you to the bone? If you start to doubt yourself, how will you keep pushing on?
Knowing they were well prepared for their trip, the five students and five staff members set off on Oct. 15 for a 3-day adventure in the High Sierras. The first day found them at Fossil Falls, a dry riverbed carved out of basalt — the product of volcanic activity — leaving huge, oddly-shaped boulders spread across the desert landscape. After exploring and camping at Fossil Falls for the night, the group headed for Mt. Langley itself. They hiked about 5-and-a-half miles through rain to get to their next camp at the Cottonwood Lakes.
“Our campsite was about 100 feet from one of the Cottonwood Lakes,” Mr. Inman said. Tucked back into the trees between boulders, he added, “It was a really cozy little spot.”
Students ate lunch and explored around the lake and prepared their gear to attempt the summit the next morning. Everyone was in high spirits as they ate dinner and celebrated the 60th birthday of Jeff Tracy, a member of the Lower Campus maintenance staff and past parent who also helps out on camp trips. Then it was off to bed early.
“When the sun goes down, it gets cold fast up there,” Mr. Wallace pointed out. Before crawling into their tents, Mr. Inman talked again about mental preparation. “The mountain is always there,” as he often says, “but you’ve got to get home.”
Saturday morning, the group was up and moving by 6:45 a.m. and after breakfast headed up Old Army Pass, a decommissioned trail that’s no longer maintained, but still navigable. They got a good omen as they spotted big horn sheep about 50 feet off the trail. In the roughly 30 years he’s been climbing in this area, Mr. Wallace said, he’s only seen these endangered species once before.
Along the trail, the OVS team passed other climbing groups, including adults who showed signs of being less prepared than their pre-teen counterparts. Through that contrast, the students “really got to experience the benefits of their planning,” Inman said. That theme of preparedness came into play again and again as the OVS group hiked through ever-deepening snow, taking regular snack and water breaks and adding waterproof layers. The higher they climbed, the thinner and colder the air became. The wind howled, and the pace slowed. Finally, after four hours, the team reached the summit.
“They were really working hard,” said Mr. Wallace. “But they persevered!”
To learn more about upcoming Outdoor Education trips, visit the Outdoors page.